Last Thursday, June 4th, the City of Panama City Beach held a joint City Council and Planning Board workshop to discuss potential form-based design regulations that will dramatically affect future Panama City Beach developments. These form-based regulations, negotiated in part by Planning Works, 180 Degree Design and White and Smith Planning, are recommendations intended to provide standards that will create consistency and form between high-rise edifices and the neighborhoods that surround them.
A team of urban planning specialists, headed by Michael Lauer, urban planner Planning Works, helped explain in the 3-day workshop how adopting these new regulations will encourage higher quality future development while maintaining the small town beach lifestyle with an overall more attractive and walkable streetscape for Front Beach Road. These new regulations will also harmonize with future and current CRA developments such as the revamped Richard Jackson Boulevard.
These comprehensive regulations actually broke down into simple decisions for the board to discuss and eventually adopt:
- Building Height Requirements
- Based on zoning buildings in residential /low intensity areas will max out at 35ft with a better overall definition of that requirement. Traditional areas will max out at 50ft with an allowance for greater height based on developments to that area. High Rise areas will see a flexible cap of 220ft, with an allowance for more height (with a decrease in footprint) to help promote variety.
- Moving Buildings Closer to the Street
- Eliminate Auto Oriented Design
- Lots of talk on this topic, but essentially parking lots will no longer be allowed on the street side. They will be required to park behind buildings or incorporated into the design of the building in the form of covered parking.
- Internal Street Standard
- Require Retail to Be Along the Street-Side
The goal of all this, as said by Michael Lauer, is to “keep the street fronts alive” by promoting more active fronts based on the design codes. An example of “active fronts” would be to see more cafés, pocket parks and urban amenities on the street side rather than parking lots or deep set backs.
On top of the physical incentives, the hopes of the city and the planning organizations are to provide incentive for developers as well with hardship variances and additional administrative variances. Current buildings that can’t or won’t participate in the developments can, under these regulations, do relatively simple façade or cosmetic changes to help coincide with the improvements. But not everything will be an easy fix. City Attorney, Doug Sale, when asked a question about buildings that will lose their parking lots due to these potential regulations, acknowledged the difficulty in transition by answering, “The preferred approach would be shared access to parking in back. But we’ll have to deal with it case by case.”
Still, within the group of attendees, the form-based design regulations were met with rave reviews, even subtle complaints that the city should have done this a decade ago. Even Mayor Gayle Oberst endorsed the sentiment by adding that when past opportunities to move in the direction of such regulations surfaced the council “punted,” Oberst added that these talks have been the “the kick in the pants” the city needed. “I think it’s the future of Panama City Beach,” Oberst said. “It’s not going to be easy, but we can do it. I’m excited about it and [when it’s completed] we’ll all be proud of it.”
So what should Panama City Beach residents expect? Nothing, yet, as these talks will continue to be negotiated until September. But when the time comes, Panama City Beach will have a new look. You’ll see more bike lanes, walkways, outdoor cafés, tropical landscaping, more accessible frontages and better roadways for driving. These regulations, the planners said, should also help attract new investments by increasing square footage available for office, retail or rental units in turn raising economic return on private capital.
The planning groups will begin drafting these new form-based rules, but, for now, all potential developers and those who intend on putting additional monies into renovating old properties will have to consider the likelihood that these regulations will be adopted…and that likelihood is higher than any high-rise on Panama City Beach.